Success without stress

I watched a lot of sports last week — Blue Jays, Lions, Major League All Star game and golf. I played all of those sports, I coached some of those sports and now I watch sports. I guess that’s a natural progression.

I enjoy listening to the colour men, former athletes who have made one more progression and don’t just watch the game, they are paid to talk about the game, and the players and the officials.

At some point in each game, the commentators use the word ‘pressure.’

Maybe the pitcher in a pressure situation, or maybe the quarterback is being pressured by the defense.

At some point it seems in every event pressure is being applied somewhere. We must assume this constant anxiety must take its toll on these professional athletes.

On the face of it, athletes are no more prone to stress than the next person. But they do put themselves in situations that are more likely to cause mental health issues.

It is hard to imagine an environment more pressured than sport, particularly at an elite professional level.

There is competition from other players, pressure from coaches, long tours away from home, a need to balance home life with work life, fans’ expectations, big game stress, and of course, pressure these perfectionists, who are being paid big money, place upon themselves.

Add round-the-clock media attention and demands from sponsors, sports psychologists warn the mixture can be deadly if the athlete adds in drugs or alcohol.

After all, if sponsors have paid money for a particular player to wear their products, they are likely to feel under pressure to turn up and compete, no matter how bad they feel.

One of the players being featured at the Major League All Star game this year was New York Yankees’ short stop, Derek Jeter. Jeter is 40 years old and is playing in his 20th and final year of professional baseball. He was at his 14th All Star game and holds records too numerous to mention.

We have never heard about him being attached to a drug scandal, being picked up for DUI, getting into a fight in a bar or assaulting family or teammates.

During an interview this year he was asked about his amazing career and how he had been so successful.

His reply was worthy of note for all players in all sports.

“I am paid to play baseball. When I come onto the field I know that for the next three hours I will play to the best of my ability and if I can contribute to the team in a positive way then we will have a good result. That’s the way I have approached each game for 20 years.”

A few years back, a pitcher who came to the mound in the ninth inning with men on base, struck out the next two batters and won the World Series for his team. A reporter asked him to describe the pressure he felt on the mound.

“Pressure?”, he replied. “My Dad worked two jobs to feed six kids; that’s pressure. I’m out there playing a game and having the time of my life. There was no pressure.”

Imagine that. No psychological babble. Doing the best you can with what you have and enjoying what you are doing. It seems success without stress is something we can control.

At least that’s what McGregor says.

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